COVID-19 in MN: New, active cases climb as care systems feel the stress

Burnout in healthcare
Nurse Jessica Mistic walks past the room of a COVID-19 patient who is off isolation but still needs care for complications from the virus or other health issues in Bemidji, Minn., on Sept. 17.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News file

3 things to know:

  • 3,661 newly confirmed or probable cases, 32 newly reported deaths

  • 25,376 known, active cases; 871 currently hospitalized

  • 73.8 percent of 16-and-older residents with at least one vaccine dose

Minnesota’s current COVID-19 surge remains stuck — in a bad way — at or near highs for 2021 with the disease entrenched and spreading now in every county.

Friday’s data showed the slow upward grind of cases, ICU needs and deaths continuing a day after state hospital leaders warned that Minnesota’s care system is stressed, short-staffed and struggling to meet the needs of rapidly rising numbers of COVID-19 and other patients.

Some 871 people are in Minnesota hospitals now with COVID, with 236 needing intensive care — the highest count so far in 2021, according to Friday’s Health Department data.

While hospitalizations aren’t skyrocketing as they did in fall 2020, the current situation is still pressuring hospitals and ICUs across Minnesota.

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This week, for the first time in the pandemic, there were more COVID patients hospitalized in greater Minnesota than in the Twin Cities region.

Graph showing COVID-19 hospitalizations by region

The daily count of known, active cases rose to 25,376 in Friday’s report, reaching another new 2021 high. The state averaged just under 3,000 new cases a day over the last seven reporting days, hovering around mid-December levels.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Cases continue to rise statewide, driven since late summer by the highly contagious delta variant. The disease is still most prevalent among teens currently, but counts are rising in every age group.

New COVID-19 cases per capita by age

“Transmission in schools and among children continues to be a particular area of concern,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Thursday. “We're now seeing more than 3,000 cases a week in children under 12. This represents a new and troubling high mark for the entire pandemic.”

The rate of tests coming back positive, which had stayed relatively stable through the spring and early summer, is now showing some upward strength. The seven-day average is running above 7 percent — higher than the 5 percent officials find concerning.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

While the positive test rate is not leaping as it did in last year’s late-fall wave, and even ticked down a bit from Thursday’s report, it’s still signaling significant community spread.

The state's death toll stands at 8,295 including 20 deaths newly reported on Friday.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

The entire state now shows a high level of COVID-19 transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases are surging especially in northwestern Minnesota.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Generally, the state remains better positioned now than during its fall and spring spikes. Nearly 73 percent of state residents age 12 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, with more than 69 percent now completely vaccinated.

Graph showing total COVID-19 vaccinations by age

It remains a huge challenge, though, to get more Minnesotans vaccinated, and wide gaps remain in the vaccination rates among regions and counties.

Map of Minnesota COVID-19 eligible vaccination rate

‘Staff are exhausted’

State health officials and hospital leaders on Thursday painted an increasingly worrisome picture of a Minnesota health care system that’s stressed, short-staffed and struggling to meet the needs of rapidly rising numbers of COVID-19 and other patients.

“Across the state, we have more hospitals reporting that they have zero available adult medical-surgical beds and zero adult ICU beds available during this latest surge,” Malcolm told reporters. “These are numbers we didn't see even in the worst of last fall’s surge.”

She pleaded with eligible Minnesotans to get vaccinated and take precautions to slow the spread of the disease. “There’s unfortunately plenty of room for the virus to do its harm.”

Hospital leaders delivered a similar message as they acknowledged the immense pressures serving rising numbers of patients — some who’d been delaying needed care during the pandemic — while struggling to treat COVID infections as new and active cases grind higher.

“The reality is the staff are exhausted and they’re working harder than they ever have,” said Dr. Kevin Croston, CEO of North Memorial Health, based in Robbinsdale, north of Minneapolis.

“Staff are working to the highest levels and the best of their abilities, but we could use more people, and they’re not out there for us to get,” added Rachelle Schultz, CEO of Winona Health in southeastern Minnesota.